Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vocational Hazards

The Reb (it IS HIS portion of the blogosphere, after all, in which I have squatted!) and I were talking the other day. Between the recent passing of Debbie Friedman, the most influential Jewish singer/songwriter WITHIN the Jewish community in a very long time (and was I the only one who, even though we KNEW she wouldn't be there, watched the "In Memoriam" at the Grammy's desperately hoping to be proven wrong?), and the BEP sharing a "Mazel Tov" with the world at halftime of Super Bowl (tm) XLV, it has been a VERY high profile stretch for Jews in musical pop culture!

But even bigger was the phenomenon of a Yeshiva University a cappella group last Chanukkah. Called "The Maccabeats," these talented young men created an Internet sensation by creating a Chanukkah parody for the ages. They were hardly the first to do something like this, and maybe not even the best. They weren't the first to use "You Tube" and the new media of the internet age to spread their "Gospel" (sorry!). BUT, they struck a chord (again?!), and in eight nights (!) had a MILLION hits on their video. If, somehow, you missed it, check it out here:

But now, in rapid succession, because success leads to imitation, come (at least) two more efforts. I will be curious to hear what others have to say in comparing these two to each other, and to those that came before. I have some very clear thoughts, but want to get a clean response.

So, check out:


and let me know what you think :)

LP Traxx

And, btw -- did Cee-Lo REALLY wear the peacock outfit as a subtle protest of the Comcast takeover of NBC???

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tweetin' the Grammy's (TM)

Okay -- first, off the ledge. I have NOT actually gone over to the dark side of twitter. Promise.

But this year's Grammy's cried out for constant response. For example (and let's make this in the form of a multiple choice quiz!)

1. Biggest sign of the impending apocalypse:
A. I actually found myself ENJOYING and appreciating the artistry of Marshall Mathers
B. The number of cast members from Glee who were on the show -- especially considering the broadcast was NOT on Fox! -- one of whom referred to the director of the Academy as "my friend"
C. Mick Jagger made his Grammy onstage DEBUT (!??)
D. The cast of Glee was actually nominated for an award that was presented ON the broadcast

2. Wardrobe nightmare of the evening:
A. Cee-Lo Green's effort to resurrect Elton John's retired wardrobe cabinet
B. Katy Perry's stockings
C. Lady Gaga's whatever the frick that was (and were those faux HORNS on her forehead when she accepted her award?)
D. Gwynneth Paltrow's platform stillettos

3. Best growling:
A. Mick Jagger (doing a Blues Brothers' hit? Really?)
B. Bob Dylan (in a performance that was both intelligible and star-making for those of us who had no idea who Mumford and Sons or the Avett Brothers really were!)
C. Christina Aguilera (a most interesting choice to help pay respect to Aretha)
D. Kris Kristofferson

4. Best performance by a Jew on the show?
A. Barbra Streisand
B. Bobby Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan)
C. Rapper Drake (aka Aubrey Graham, formerly of DeGrassi)
D. Don Kirschner (in memoriam)

5. Biggest anti-climax:
A. Lady Antebellum winning (and winning, and winning)
B. Eminem winning (does this qualify in the apocalyptical signs category as well?)
C. Miranda Lambert winning
D. The lack of reaction to Arcade Fire's stunning and otherwise inexplicable victory for Album of the Year

6. Cleverest introduction/act pairing
A. Blake Shelton introducing Miranda Lambert
B. Doogie Howser (aka Neil Patrick Harris) introducing Katy Perry
C. Kris Kristofferson introducing Barbra
D. The intro of the opening number -- showing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" to Aretha

7. Most laughable moment from a single song performance:
A. That the song is known as "Otherwise known as 'Forget You'" -- as so eloquently lampooned in the intro by Jamie Foxx
B. Cee-Lo's obvious B&E against Elton John's dressing room
C. Gwynneth Paltrow's platform stilletoes
D. Gwynneth turning sidewise and (I swear it actually happened!) disappearing from view
E. Utilizing Muppets, but NOT bringing in Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band (can you just picture the ending with ANIMAL destroying his drum set? :)

8. Most painful moment from a single song performance:
A. The bicycles during Arcade Fire - huh?
B. The lighting during Arcade Fire - I hope there were no seizures induced in the Staples Center
C. The screeching that passed for the music of Arcade Fire - who "arranged" that performance?
D. The realization that Arcade Fire was up for Album of the year - (How?)
E. The WTF moment when Arcade Fire was announced as the winner for Album of the Year -- and you suddenly realized that even Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Eminem, or (OMG, not again) Lady A was a so much better choice!

9. Breakout Performance
A. Mumford and Sons
B. Avett Brothers
C. Eminem
D. Arcade Fire

10. Best explanation for the Album of the Year winner:
A. Barbra, to calm her notorious stage fright after her performance, had a drag of some of whatever Kris was smoking, and did her best imitation of Hosni Mubarak and "called an audible" because she, like the rest of America, was suffering from Lady A fatigue.
B. See above, but it was an accident, and Babs turned Arcade Fire into Marisa Tomei for a new generation.
C. Academy voters forgot for a moment that they were NOT voting for American Idol and got confused, voting for the act they wanted to get off the island, immediately.
D. See C. above, but it was a deliberate Idol-like conspiracy to give the statuette to the lamest of the bunch
E. It is the f'n Grammy's -- it isn't supposed to make sense!!
F. WTF??!!

See what I mean? But -- they DID end the show 1 minute early! Overall, it was an excellent show -- until the ending. I will be curious to see if that ending sank the whole show!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Where it All Comes Together

Ol' Jims might not be jazzed about the Soup Bowl, but the Weis Man and I totally are. Not even for the commercials -- I will leave that for others to analyze.

No, I am talking about the half time show (tm) -- the most absurd abomination of ALL the absurd abominations that make up the spectacle that is the Super Bowl (tm). A show large enough that the time it requires to set up, perform, and break down forces the players to wait a FULL HOUR between the end of the first half of the game and the start of the second half (at least in recent years)!!! Hey Jim -- can you say "integrity of the game"?

I hafta admit - I was all set to talk about how the BEP are NOT my kind of music. How it was grossly unfair that the network (Fox) that has YET to be cleared of complicity in the "wardrobe malfunction" fiasco that led to half time shows becoming lifetime achievement awards for the safe and white bread of the music world (sorry, Sir Paul, even my 17 year old thinks you rocked!), got to be the network that benefitted from last year's meltdown by the frighteningly sadly over-the-hill (to the point of being embarrassing) remaining members of The Who (Fox exec's could be heard humming "We won't get fooled again"!).

I was expecting to spend most of the column (I DO hafta pay off to the Man for letting me have this space, after all!) talking about the fact that more people just heard the phrase "Mazel Tov!" at one time than EVER before in Jewish (or human!) history -- which actually IS a really big deal!

But, truth be told, what I just witnessed was, by far, the BEST half-time entertainment. EVER! The surprise appearance of Slash and Usher were not merely jaw-dropping for their surprise factor, but actually added significantly to the music and entertainment value of the show. The use of the scene that the BEPs choreographed, with the multiple stage elements, with the lighted costumes of the seemingly thousands of extras, and the choreography that so expertly exploited the effect (c'mon, the first MEANINGFUL use of the wave in a football stadium since it was originated!), even the use of the testament-to-Jerry-Jones'-massive-ego truly JumboTron, was outstanding. The seamless musical transitions, and the interweaving not just of different numbers, but especially musical styles, was excellent as well.

And they managed to get on and off and back to football in a little more than half an hour. Even got an inspirational message from Will.I.Am thrown in to boot.

My only carp -- besides the fact that the audio was much slower to hit its stride technically than the Peas were themselves -- was please, please, please, don't ever make me listen to Fergie attempting to rap again! Please leave that to the guys who know what they are doing, sweetie!

But, at least you made us all forget the F- disaster that was Christina mangling (and not just the words!) the national anthem! And thanks, Fox, for forcing a Glee promo down our throats in the form of "America the Beautiful" immediately before the botch job on the anthem. Did we REALLY need them both for any OTHER reason?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Crayfish -- Halloween Eve at TJ Elliot's

It is always amazing to me to hang with my good friends Terry Glaze, Tommy Rodante, Bob Porambo, and Councilman Jimmy Marcos on nights when they, collectively known as The Crayfish, play their unique mix of mostly 70s cover stuff. But the best night of the year is always the night of the Halloween Party at Jimmy's restaurant -- TJ Elliot's.

It hasn't always been that way -- it is hard to believe that it was only 3 years ago when the Rabbi showed up dressed as a biker, complete with full body tattoo t-shirt (you CANNOT make this stuff up), and easily walked away with the prize for best costume -- defeating only 2 other competitiors. It seems like he was the catalyst of this phenomenon, every bit as much as Chris Moneymaker is credited with the explosion in Texas Hold 'Em poker.

The band seems to get even more stoked for nights like this. I have always suspected that, as much as Terry and the boys like entertaining and being on the stage, they, like the rest of us, genuinely enjoy the antics of that small, but persistent number of the patrons, dressed in silly costumes, behaving in ways that they would probably regret the next day if they were unfortunate to be able to remember them!

And it seemed like this year, close to 90% of the crowd was in costumes of some kind -- certainly there were over 30 participants in the contest this year! And, although the Rabbi was on crutches, he dutifully came as Brett Favre (clever!) and judged the contest with Jimmy, as he has every year since winning it!

If you have not allowed yourself the guilty pleasure of seeing the Crayfish -- at TJ Elliot's, or their monthly gig at the Irish Channel in Crofton, or in any of their other venues -- you owe it to yourself to do so. As the evening goes on, the banter can get a little raunchy, and there are the occasional bawdlerized lyrics (of a non-PG variety), but the music is outstanding for 4 guys who my daughter refers to (rather rudely, but affectionately, as befits this foursome) as "Old Guys playing rock n roll!"

And mark your calendars now for NEXT Halloween -- the spectacle has grown so large that a group of 5 arriving for dinner at 8 didn't get seated until 9, and was barely finishing as the band began -- to a standing-room only crowd!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Abbey Road on the River

So, what DO you do in the greater DC area on a gorgeous day in the middle of the Labor Day weekend? If you are smart, you got yourself out and experienced Abbey Road on the River -- a huge Beatles festival -- at the National Harbor!

Multiple stages of tribute band after tribute band. Memorabilia dealers. The chance to meet the man behind the animated cartoon, or to purchase replica outfits worn in concert. Interviews with Pete Best. Even Beatles karaoke!

It was a remarkable afternoon, on so many levels. Getting to share the Beatles' experience with my almost 13 year old, who knows a lot of the music already, but still has no concept of the cultural phenomenon that goes with it was a trip. The tribute bands, all professional enough, were a constant reminder of just how remarkable the originals were. Every now and then, there would be a performance of a portion of a song here and there that would show genuine artistic vision, and bring a new depth previously unheard. Hearing a female lead singer doing Beatles' standards was at times highly refreshing, at times challenging.

The karaoke provided the average Joe the opportunity to realize just how NOT easy it really is to make these songs sound good. Although, the performers I heard were all several steps above the level usually connected with bar performances, the difference between professional and amateur was still clear. Even my own performance, while well received, would never even remind anyone of Stu Sutcliffe!

But by far the best part of the day was listening to Pete Best, the Beatles' original drummer, talk about his own experiences, with, and without the others. It was his mother's founding of the first club promoting this genre of music that allowed ALL of the bands of that era to get started and get discovered. It was amazing to here the respect he had for the others, and the lack of rancor coming from the man who was replaced by Ringo Starr on the eve of the band's breakout.

So, next Labor Day, gather a group of friends, and make a day of it -- you won't be sorry!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Guest Review of James Taylor and Carole King @ Verizon June 8, 2010

Jim Schwartz here, cross-pollinating the Weis Man blogosphere.

You see, last Tuesday night, long before we knew the sports significance of the evening, LP and I, and some of our other friends, bought tickets for the JT/Carole King concert at Verizon Center.

OMG -- first of all, I hope I LOOK as good as either of them when I am their age (for the record, that is 62 for Mr. Taylor, and 68[!] for Carole King). Second -- I hope I have their energy tomorrow! They were as fresh after more than 2 1/2 hours as they were when they came flying out of box to start the show.

But most of all -- they are two consumate entertainers, who still both have their full singing and playing chops. Yes, Carole was a little raspy through the encores (yes, that IS plural!), but, as was always the case, that just made her sound even better, and she knew EXACTLY how to use it!

The biggest complaint one could have with such a concert, frankly, is that it ended! Although, honestly, even THAT was professionally handled -- I heard more than a few of the younger folks (30 and 40 somethings) around us losing it after each song drove toward the crescendo and denouement of the second set -- the audience was more emotionally wiped out even more than the consummate pros on the stage were. After the last encore, as much as we all wanted more, we also knew all the cues, knew that it had ended where it should have, and started quietly heading for the exits. So, yes, there was no "Tapestry" on this night (although I think they got to every OTHER track from this seminal album!). No "Wonderful World." I am sure everyone in the capacity crowd had at least one favorite that they hadn't heard -- but when the combined portfolio is as deep and amazing as these two brought to the revolving stage, it is simply IMPOSSIBLE to get everything in!

And the re-union wasn't just of the two lead performers. They were backed, as they always were, by the same trio of incredible musicians -- Danny Korchmar, who introduced them back in 1970 [!], on electric guitar; the incomparable Leland Sklar on bass (with white beard even longer, if that is possible); and, holding down the drum set, Russ Kunkel. Even Arnold McCuller was on hand to lead the background vocalists, which sadly and surprisingly, consisted of NO relatives of either lead!

Even the newcomers added incredible talent and depth, and the roadies moved remarkably smoothly through the challenges of a revolving set that never stopped moving. For that matter, neither did the energy or the music!

It is hard to find highlights without listing EVERY song they did, but a few moments do stand taller. I had forgotten just how beautiful King's ballad "Canaan" is, or how her version of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" is so emotionally powerful; never fully realized how kick-ass either of them could get -- Taylor on "Your Smiling Face" especially, King on several numbers, including "Natural Woman" which, on this night, at least, became the anthem for just how much the world has changed in relation to gender roles and identity in 40 years.

But when they got to the OTHER of the two songs each had recorded separately -- "Up On the Roof," we were all treated to a "compare and contrast" arrangement that truly put the remarkable talents of each in focus. It began with King taking the first verse, in ballad form, on the grand piano, and the two of them combining on the chorus. But, when Taylor took up for verse 2, the keyboard went to the back burner, and Taylor's guitar arrangement brought a rock sensibility and energy from a totally different direction, just as it did when originally recorded on the "Flag" LP. And back and forth it went throughout the song -- the differences highlighting each performer's unique style and virtuosity in a way that neither individual version could have. A magnificent arrangement showcasing them both!

I was prepared to experience a sense of history and nostalgia, with a bit of wistfulness that this might (is likely to?) be the last chance I would have to see these two amazing performers together. What I got instead was an remarkable night of powerful rock and roll and popular music that doesn't have to be modified by references to the performers' ages, or anything else -- they held their own with ANYONE on this night!

All in all, even though it meant I was restricted to watching Strasburg's debut 2 innings on a television screen over dinner at Clyde's (and missed the more spectacular ending), there is no doubt in my mind I had the hotter ticket in DC on this night! And for those of you who saw me dragging on Wednesday -- it was worth getting home after midnight!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The "Top 500" of the Rock Era?

As a native of the Washington DC suburbs, with two vehicles, a teen near driver, and a tween, even with the advances in technology, riding in the car is a musical challenge. On longer trips, it is 2 IPods in the back seat, and the adults listening to CDs or the radio. Around town, the compromise is often news radio.

But, when it is just me in the car, more often than not, it is 100.3 BIG100 -- playing the music that fits the parameters of this blog.

And every year, for the Memorial Day weekend, with the help of a listener survey, BIG100 does their Top 500 list and countdown. And every year there are the predictable results, and the unpredictable -- along with some that are completely inexplicable.

For example:

Every year, the Beatles dominate with often as much as 10% of the list (more counting solo efforts by each of the 4). And those who know me know that I am TOTALLY fine with this! BUT -- Hey Jude at #120??? Are you kidding???

But, at the same time, once again this year, glaringly absent from the top 25 is Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters -- one of the truly iconic songs of the era. And, even worse, NOWHERE in the 500 is ANY song by either S&G, or Paul Simon alone! Nowhere! James Taylor is there. The Youngbloods are there. Dave Mason is there. Jonathan Edwards is there! All with worthy songs -- but if those are there, where is S&G? It is clearly neither era nor style of music keeping them out? The same for The Band -- also conspicuously absent!

Among the over-represented -- imho -- are 2 acts as diverse as Led Zepellin and Jimmy Buffet -- again proving that the list doesn't skew towards a particular style of music over another!

Another underrepresnted performer -- Elton John -- who got a little love by placing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road into the coveted (at least in my house!) #13 slot. But his iconic Your Song has GOT to come in higher than #165!

And Nights in White Satin deserves higher than #37, and Piano Man #35 -- especially when Zepellin had THREE of the top 30 (and the Beatles only had 2!)! And what about American Pie at #90??!

Some trends ARE understandable. The Who gets an appropriate share of the love overall, but interestingly, their top 3, all in the top 64, happen to be the 3 themes from the CSI franchise. Don't Stop Believing making the top 25, even barely, has GOT to be influenced, for better or worse, by Glee. And the only reason I can see What I Like About You getting in at all is because of its connection to television as well.

Of course, this is exactly the point of such lists -- to get arguments started!! Okay, so I'll bite.

Even better, I will pose this as a series of poll questions, leading up to naming our own Best of the Era list -- with your help.

To start -- I'll pose this question -- Top 5 Artists of the Era. Sounds easy, but good luck!! Post those replies below.

And get ready, because we will move into a series of "best songs from act x" surveys before going for the big one!